Archive for the ‘greenwashing’ Tag

More Greenwashing Napkins   Leave a comment

Apparently I’m on a greenwashing bent right now, what with my last two posts being about greenwashing in the dry cleaning industry and nail polish marketing. I notice things unfortunately often, but don’t always make note of them.

Last year I posted about the greenwashing paper napkins that Quiznos was using, this year I have another paper napkin from a pizza chain (I don’t remember which one and there’s no logo on the napkin). The claim? “Save the environment, one napkin at a time.” Even a 100% recycled paper napkin is not going to save the environment. Recycling is at the bottom of the 3-R’s since it is the least beneficial. Using FEWER napkins (reduce), and/or using cloth napkins (reuse), would be better choices but still wouldn’t quite rise to “save the environment” level. These types of small steps need to be part of a larger pattern, a larger movement, to really be effective. Yes, it’s a very good thing to use disposable napkins made from 100% recycled material, and I wish that all fast food/take-out restaurants did so. However, it really annoys me when a company makes outrageous claims of benefit for very small steps. Does anyone actually see these logos and think that the restaurant is a “green” restaurant? Or does anyone actually think that using recycled disposable napkins instead of virgin disposable napkins will save the world? Now, if the claim was “Help the environment, one napkin at a time” I might be able to get on board with it not being greenwashing.

A non-greenwashing (at least in my opinion) example is some brands/sizes of bottled water that I’ve seen recently that are using smaller caps to use less plastic. The bottles that I’ve seen haven’t gone to such lengths as to redesign the label touting that they’re saving the world by using less plastic, they’ve put a note on the label that by using smaller caps they are using less plastic. There is no “save the world” claim, only a mention that this is part of an “ongoing effort to reduce [their] impact on the environment.” For that reason I’m thinking that this is not greenwashing but is legitimate green marketing of a product that is inherently not environmentally friends. There’s only so much that the impact of a disposable plastic water bottle can be reduced. Disposable means landfill space with long-term maintenance of leaching and methane production, or incineration with air pollution and ash disposal concerns, or recycling with energy consumption and downcycling issues. Plastic most likely means petroleum product, with all the impact associated with oil drilling, or it can mean corn product, which also has a significant footprint of energy and other inputs. And water itself is a concern. Some brands of bottled water are tap water, but some are “spring water” and by my understanding that means they have to tap into the spring before it reaches the surface. This requires the construction of an industrial facility in an otherwise untouched place, and my cause the spring to dry up and change the local hydrology. And then there’s that Fiji water brand that ships bottled water to us rich first-worlders while the locals don’t have adequate sanitation and clean water facilities.

Posted April 14, 2012 by mayakey in environment, resource use

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I’m Shocked! Shocked About Mislabeled Less-Toxic Nail Polish   Leave a comment

In today’s newspaper there was an article about a report released this week by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control that found that some nail polishes marketed as being free of toluene, formaldehyde, and dibutyl phthalate do in fact contain those chemicals. Absolutely shocking, I say! Who would ever believe that a company would have misleading advertising that claims (explicitly or implicitly) that it’s products are healthy/not harmful for consumers? Oh, wait a minute, that’s greenwashing, which is rampant.

The DTSC’s concerns are not primarily exposure of women wearing the nail polish, but the exposure of the salon workers who are surrounded by nail polish all-day-every-day at their jobs. My concern, however, is MY exposure to toxic and carcinogenic compounds in nail polish that I wear. There’s a reason that I stopped wearing nail polish before we started trying to get pregnant. Not only can the volatile chemicals be inhaled, but some chemicals can be absorbed through the nails and skin as well. For the last decade or more I have only purchased nail polishes that state that they are toluene and formaldehyde-free; I think that dibutyl phthalate-free polishes must have come on the market only in the last few years when I haven’t been paying attention. But even without the “toxic trio” as the article refers to them, nail polish still contains a soup of other harmful chemicals. Basically, it is just not possible to make nail polish as we know it today without that soup. I’m highly skeptical that the so-called “organic nail polishes” on the market today aren’t just substituting less-harmful chemicals for the toxic solvents, colors, and other ingredients in conventional polishes. So while it is disappointing to know that there is a possibility that my nail polishes aren’t living up to their marketing claims, since I already consider them to be toxic soup it doesn’t really change anything. I still love me some painted toenails.

Posted April 11, 2012 by mayakey in personal care, pre-pregnancy

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Dealing with Greenwashing in the Dry Cleaner Industry   2 comments

After his short trip to Las Vegas, Mike had a few items of clothes labeled “dry clean only” that needed to be cleaned to get out the cigarette smoke smell. I hadn’t yet gotten around to researching a local dry cleaner near our house, so there was a flurry as I quickly attempted to do my research before he just went to the nearest one. Unfortunately I didn’t find one I could recommend, just one that I wasn’t completely opposed to. Especially in California greenwashing is rampant in the dry cleaner industry. The use of the very hazardous chemical perchloroethene (perc or PCE) is being phased out in California, and many dry cleaners have made the switch to other cleaning methods already. However, some of those alternative methods aren’t exactly “green” or healthy, so the “green cleaning” ads that many of those companies use are considered greenwashing in my book. GreenAmerica did an article on dry cleaning alternatives back in 2007 (when they were still called Co-op America and the monthly newsletter was called Real Money) that I used for my research last week.

Now for me, I just handwash anything “dry clean only” and have been for years. I figure that people were wearing wool, silk, linen, and cotton for millennia before dry cleaning was invented, so obviously they can be washed in water. And since I avoid synthetic fabrics that means my entire wardrobe can be wet cleaned. Yes, I handwashed my hemp-silk wedding dress, and hung it up to dry.

I started with dry cleaner that is about a block from where our workplaces. My research consisted of asking what process they used to clean the clothing. At that first place (which uses plant leaves in the logo, subtly implying that they are a green cleaner) the lady had no idea what process is used to clean the clothes. My question completely baffled her. Scratch that place from the list; for all I know they could still be using perc, which is not at all an option especially since we’re trying to get pregnant.

So I searched for other dry cleaners near us and found a couple more. The second place that I called at least knew what process they use: hydrocarbons. He assured me that it is not perc, and that it is “organic”. Unfortunately for him I’m an environmental engineer who took organic chemistry. When talking about agriculture “organic” means raised/grown without synthetic pesticides, when talking about chemicals “organic” means containing carbon atoms. Perc is organic, it is also carcinogenic and toxic. So are many, many, many other organic chemicals. Basically they just use a petroleum-based solvent instead of a chlorinated organic solvent. Again, not an option when we’re trying to get pregnant since I don’t know what will be off-gassing from the “clean” clothes.

The third place that I called very directly advertises as a “green cleaner”. They use the GreenEarth process, which uses a silicone-based solvent. On the plus side there is no risk of off-gassing from the clean clothes, and it degrades into sand, water, and carbon dioxide. On the negative side, according to the GreenAmerica article, the solvent may be a carcinogen and the manufacturing process generates a known carcinogen. Since I was short on time, though, this is the cleaner that won out. At least our exposure to anything hazardous is nothing or next to nothing, even if the workers at the dry cleaner have an exposure risk and there are problems up the supply chain.

Ideally I would have found a cleaner that uses a wet cleaning technique or a liquid carbon dioxide process (other than Solvair). Since we hardly ever take clothes to a dry cleaner, I don’t know if or when I’ll continue this research. Maybe I’ll do another flurry the next time the need arises.

Plea to Churches and Organizations: No Balloon Releases   Leave a comment

I meant to do this post earlier in the week but our internet went out (ok, it was just the wireless, but it took all my “spare” time to figure out the problem and correct it). This past weekend I was horrified to watch as people at my church did balloon releases after each of the Masses as part of the Pentecost celebration. The person who organized it said, “It’s ok, the balloons are biodegradable.” Uh-huh, that makes it perfectly ok; and the several foot long plastic ribbon tied to each balloon? Yes, there is great symbolism to balloon releases, but does everyone remember that there was also great symbolism to throwing rice on newlyweds?

This is not an area of particular scientific expertise for me, but the claim that the balloons are biodegradable is a bit greenwash-ey to me. Yes, if they are made of latex and not plastic or metal, they will biodegrade. However, how much time will it take? I’m willing to bet that if you through a balloon in your compost heap it would be the last thing in there to biodegrade. I did a web search and there are lots of web pages by balloon sellers that say that when the balloons reach 5 miles up they shatter into tiny pieces that decompose quickly. Again, I’m not sure about what the actual temporal definition of “quickly” is. But: how many balloons never make it that high? How many don’t have enough helium to get up that high, or get snagged in a tree or power line or something else tall, or get popped before reaching the shattering height so that they fall to the ground in large pieces? How many of the balloons, pieces, or shattered bits deposit in places that are not conducive to decomposition and so take even longer to decompose? In the intervening time those pieces can be eaten by wildlife, and latex is not known as a quality food with good nutritive value. Then there’s the question of dyes. I’m not comfortable eating or using products containing the dyes that the FDA has approved for food, drugs, and/or cosmetics; what types of dyes are used to color balloons and what effect could they have when the latex decomposes and/or when an animal eats the balloon fragment?

Even if you are ok with all of the concerns about the balloon itself, the ribbon is a huge problem. Even all those balloon websites say that balloon releases should only be done with ribbon-less balloons. The ribbons are not biodegradable. They can get tangled in trees, power lines, or other tall things. When they come back down to the ground they can entrap animals in their tangles. And they will last forever. Eventually weathering will cause them to fragment into smaller and smaller pieces. But things that don’t biodegrade just keep fragmenting, they keep the same molecular structure and don’t get broken down back into basic carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, etc.

So here’s my plea: Just don’t do it. There are other rituals that can be done instead that have a smaller footprint and less risk to the environment. If you just HAVE to do a balloon release make it small and release balloons only, hand tied, with no ribbons or plastic attachments.

Posted June 16, 2011 by mayakey in environment

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Awash in Greenwashing   Leave a comment

Environmentalists are a picky lot. It’s definitely true that there’s really no such thing as “good enough” when it comes to being environmentally and socially friendly. As a result every green claim can be considered greenwashing to a certain degree. There are some outstanding companies that are committed to fair trade, organics, zero waste, 100% renewable energy use, and beyond the buzz words, but those are a definite minority. There are also a few companies that don’t use their sustainable practices as part of their marketing. However, then you have companies that blow one little change way out of proportion. For some reason lately it seems like I’ve seen a higher of the latter lately; and even worse seen things advertised as “green” that most definitely aren’t.

The one that sticks out to me the most is Quiznos. We had Quiznos for an all-staff meeting at work last week and the napkins and boxes were all emblazoned with this “Eat Toasty, Be Green, Do Your Part” logo. I spent most of the meeting, the remaining work day, and the following day puzzling over how eating Quiznos could possibly be a “green” choice. That catch phrase is designed to make you think that by eating one of their sandwiches, you are doing something good for the environment, or at least that’s how it reads to me. I was stumped by how eating a non-organic, meat and cheese sandwich wrapped in paper, made in a chain restaurant with a very wide distribution network, and served with an overabundance of napkins, could possibly be a decision that could be considered “doing your part”. Especially since if you compare Quiznos with many other sub shops, wouldn’t Quiznos have a higher energy usage since they toast all of their sandwiches? After mulling this over for a while I read the fine print on one of the napkins that I had kept while I figure this out. It says: “Our first step is making environmentally responsible choices with our packaging.” All this marketing, the super catch phrase, the green ink printing, the fancy logos, big recycled symbol, is all because the use 100% recycled paper for their napkins, towels, and tissue. That’s it?!?!?! And further investigation reveals that it says 100% recycled, not 100% post-consumer recycled, which makes the claim even less impressive. As I said, environmentalists are good at saying “but you could do more!”, but this case is a great example of greenwashing where one minor change is blown up into something way more than it is. For as little effort as converting to recycled napkins requires, the marketing is huge.

It is hard not to succumb to greenwashing, since it requires always thinking (that’s part of the “conscious” living thing) about the claim. Does the claim make sense? Does it even apply to the product (like a big “fat-free” sticker on a bag of hard candy that is 100% melted sugar, flavor, and color)? How trustworthy is it? Third party certification is best because that means an unaffiliated party agrees that it meets a specific set of criteria (think USDA organic certified by Oregon Tilth, sustainable forest products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, or fair trade goods certified by TransFair). Self-certification claims often hold no water or are not backed up with any publicly available evidence. Of course some things have to be self-certified because there are no certification programs. And there are, unfortunately, non-reputable third party certifications. Finally, I always ask myself if the particular product is the best option available, because if it easy to “go greener” (or not too difficult anyway) than why not do it?

Yeay For Unwashed Towels!   Leave a comment

Sounds funny, but this week I have been extremely happy about unwashed towels. I am at a conference, staying in a hotel, and they are actually not washing the towels. I could have done a little happy dance when I walked into the room the first day and peaked in the bathroom to see the towel still hanging where I left it. Sure it may be common now for hotels to advertise that they are “green” by not washing towels that you leave hanging, or washing sheets only every 3 days or on checkout. However, in my experience, they don’t follow through. I always hang my towels back up so that they don’t get washed, and usually come back into the room to fresh towels. It’s hotel greenwashing. I mean seriously, at home the towels get washed weekly so I think I can live without daily fresh towels at a hotel. And it’s not just about the water use, although that is significant, it is also about all the bleach used to keep them white.

I know that I’m not the only one with this gripe since I’ve had this conversation with fellow “greenies”. At least I haven’t ever gotten to the point of leaving the “Do Not Disturb” on the door all day so that housekeeping doesn’t come in at all, just so that the towels don’t get washed. Although, now that I think about it… my bathroom and floor at home get cleaned weekly so I could probably live without the daily cleaning at a hotel, too. It’s so much of a hassle to avoid housekeeping, though.

Posted March 16, 2011 by mayakey in travel

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They Really Don’t Have Recycled Content?   Leave a comment

Here’s a great example of how you can’t make assumptions when it comes to “conscious living”.

For years now I’ve made the assumption that when buying something made of metal there is a good chance that some percentage of the material is recycled metal. Given that metal recycling is fairly common and makes business sense (can be cheaper than mining), it seemed to make sense that the recycled material would make it into the general material stream. However, I’ve recently encountered a case that indicates my assumption is wrong.

I’m in the process of getting curtains for our master bedroom. As a starting point for the hardware, I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond’s website and browsed to see if it was even possible to do what I had in my head. They had lots of options that would work, but before I ordered anything I decided on a whim to search for “recycled metal curtain hardware”. Lo and behold several websites popped up! As I looked at several of them I started wondering how much of the “eco” claims by these retailers are just marketing spin, or if they really are offering a different product. Remember, I was assuming that the rods in BB&B’s stock would have some recycled content as well. So I sent an email to BB&B asking if their curtain hardware contains any recycled metal content. It took a few days since they had to relay my question to the buyer, but the final answer was a simple “unfortunately no.” I was surprised at that, but I guess now I know that even when it comes to easily recycled metals there is no room for assumptions. It is entirely possible that my assumption is correct and each curtain rod has maybe 2% recycled metal content, but if it is not tracked and verified it does not really matter (for marketing anyway). Without some degree of tracking, someone could easily claim 90% recycled content when the reality is 9%. Sheesh, I just reasoned my way into having to figure out how to make sure that I’m not falling prey to greenwashing claims before I buy anything.

Posted February 20, 2011 by mayakey in conscious living, home, resource use, shopping

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